Shocking new research finds that in some areas just one in five dental surgeries are accepting new NHS patients.
And there are reports of patients being de-registered without notice with emerging concerns of dentists providing poorer quality services on the NHS and insisting on private treatments
According to consumer champion, Healthwatch England, people are venting increasing frustration about access to and the quality of NHS dentistry services.
It claims patients are being struck off registers for missing check-ups even when there are extenuating circumstances, including one incident of a patient having to miss an appointment to care for her husband while he received treatment for cancer.
By far the most common problem is finding a surgery willing to take on new NHS patients in the first place. A 24-year-old woman from Almondbury said: “I tried to get accepted by an NHS dentist but I was told the nearest one I could get registered with was in Elland – a round trip of 14 miles.
“Luckily I drive but it would be impossible for me to get there otherwise. It’s no surprise that so many people can’t see their dentist on a regular basis.”
According to the NHS Choices website, just under half of the country’s 8,000 dentist surgeries are currently registering new NHS patients.
Yet Healthwatch England says a spot check of 300 surgeries showed that in some areas the numbers are as low as 1 in 5, with Yorkshire and Humberside the worst affected region.
Anna Bradley, chairman of Healthwatch England, said: “Patients are constantly being fed confusing and inaccurate information about who is and isn’t currently offering NHS treatment, and are feeling like they have to opt for costly private treatments such as hygienist appointments so that they don’t get struck off the books.
“It’s simply not acceptable and such basic consumer concerns must be addressed when the Dentist Contract comes up for renewal next year.”
Healthwatch England says the current NHS dental contract in Kirklees is too inflexible and is largely based on historical demand not an objective assessment of need. One patient said: “I’m a 65 year old pensioner, I called up my dentist for new dentures. I was told that that I was “no longer on our computer”. They advised me to call them every month to check if they were taking NHS patients, but they were only taking on private patients.
“In the end I had to go private and pay £760 for new dentures and I am on pension credits.”
Another said: “I have been looking for a dentist for over three months and have still not found one. I have rung the dentist but they keep advising me to call back after two weeks. I am now in extreme pain. I don’t want to be going to A&E but the problem is getting worse, if I had been seen three months ago then I might not be in the pain that I am in today.”